GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- Four catches.
It doesn't get much worse than the nearly complete absence of production from Florida's tight ends last season. Four catches is practically invisible, although some of the blame can be shared with a passing offense that ranked No. 107 out of 123 FBS teams in 2013.
Just one year prior, the Gators got a fine season from tight end Jordan Reed, who led the team in receiving with 45 catches for 559 yards and three touchdowns. Then the bottom fell out.
"It was a very offensive position when Jordan Reed was here," head coach Will Muschamp said recently. "It was an offensive position last year."
This fall, position coach Derek Lewis goes back to the drawing board to develop the players he has. There is also hope that new coordinator Kurt Roper will devise an offense that will better utilize UF's big targets over the middle of the field.
As we've gone through this week's series of the Gators' top positions with room to improve, it's not difficult to notice the focus has been on every offensive group except for running back. Here then is a look at Florida's tight ends.
Battling for No. 1: Just how much emphasis was there on tight ends blocking in 2013? Well, Clay Burton started nine of 12 games and had just one catch in the final game of the season. He's started 15 of his 25 games in an Gator uniform, but with questionable hands and just three career catches, Burton leaves a lot to be desired. The same can be said for Tevin Westbrook, a converted defensive lineman who "led" Florida tight ends in receiving last season with three catches for 30 yards. Burton and Westbrook have good size and can block, but it's possible they've already reached their ceilings in terms of skill. If Roper opens up the offense and involves the tight ends, the best bets for receiving options are likely to come in the form of true freshmen.
Strength in numbers: Part of the problem with tight ends at Florida has been numbers. The Gators had just three on scholarship when Kent Taylor transferred after a lost 2013 season. That third tight end was Colin Thompson, who has hardly seen the field due to nagging foot injuries. Like Taylor, Thompson was one of the top tight end prospects in the nation in the Class of 2012. But even when healthy -- if he can get healthy -- Thompson profiles more as a blocker than a pass-catcher.
New on the scene: The Gators acted decisively in signing three skilled tight ends in their 2014 recruiting class. DeAndre Goolsby, an athletic 6-foot-4 and 230 pounds, is already on campus as an early enrollee. That's critical because he needs to gain more weight and upper-body strength, and having Goolsby compete in spring practice could give him the best chance of any tight end on the roster at becoming the pass-catcher Florida has lacked at the position. Like Goolsby, C'yontai Lewis has been working to gain weight and is up to 6-4, 230. Lewis caught the coaching staff's eye in camp last summer when he showed good ball skills and athleticism. The third tight end in the class, Moral Stephens, was a big wide receiver in high school who was offered a scholarship at UF when Taylor's transfer opened a spot on the roster. Stephens, is 6-3, 200, so he will need to add some bulk, but the coaches like his playmaking ability and see him as a tight end and H-back.